In the spring of 1983, dressed in a white robe with a red stole I had designed, I stood in the front of our church with eight other 8th graders as we affirmed our baptisms.
There were lots of words and promises and prayers, and I regret to say that I was likely more interested in the baby’s breath my mother had arranged in my up-swept hair. Or maybe it was the electric feeling of wearing high heels for the first time (apart from the hours and hours I wore my mother’s around our house). However, we had gone to the Gunne Sax outlet in San Francisco to find the perfect white dress. Layers of white gauzy fabric with white lace up the bodice and around the high neck – and crisp, white ribbon, sewn precisely around the cuffs at my wrists. So, I could have been waiting to get the robe off, so I could show off my dress.
It only occurs to me now, that the adults in the room were teary with pride and brimming with hope as the next group of young women and men claimed their own baptisms and became adults in the life of the church. Our parents had brought us to the baptismal font when we were infants, answering God’s call to raise their children in the Christian church, which for them meant the Lutheran church. They brought us to the waters of baptism and bore witness to a pastor saying things like, “sealed by the Holy Spirit forever” and calling upon the Holy Spirit to come and stir up in us, “the Joy of the Lord both now, and forever.”
We had attended confirmation classes and retreats. We had memorized the entirety of Luther’s Small Catechism. Our Confirmation Day was a lifetime in the making, but more specifically, it was two-years-of-preparation in the making.
My dad was my pastor, so he was my confirmation teacher, and he was so good at it. He’s a story teller, and he is funny as can be. So, we really couldn’t have had a better teacher, and yet we goofed off in class, memorizing paragraphs just well enough to recite them to him and have him make a check mark by that portion of the Small Catechism. You see, he was a great and patient teacher…but we were 8th graders. And (I’ll only speak for myself at this point) I was in confirmation class because that’s what you do in the Lutheran church when you are in middle school. It was the next obligation. I had completed First Communion classes and had my first communion in 5th grade. Then, I guess 6th grade was just regular Sunday school. But, I knew that 7th grade was when you start confirmation classes.
I remember no movement of the Spirit.
I remember no holy tremble when I first knelt at the railing and received a piece of God into my hands, placing it in my mouth.
I was simply a part of the church, and she was offering what she had by way of education and experience, so I could more fully live into my baptismal life.
Now that I’m a pastor, I see all this from the other side. And today, two of my favorite humans, Chol and Indigo, stood in the front of our church and affirmed their baptisms. Was Indigo thinking about her dress? Were Chol’s new shoes on his mind? I don’t know. But, I was there for a miracle – even if they missed it.
There is a part in the rite where the pastor lays her hands on the Confirmand’s shoulder or head and prays the same words that were written about Jesus by the prophet Isaiah.
2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2-3)
This was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. It’s a prophecy. Those who spoke and heard it believed it would happen. And it did.
So, we gather around our 8th graders and speak these words of prophecy. Today, I invited all the people who had ever been a part of Indigo and Chol’s faith lives to come and lay their hands on their shoulders as we prayed for them. There were so many people gathered around each of them that some people couldn’t reach them. The people on the outside of the clumps of humans who love Indigo and Chol touched the shoulders of those who were touching the shoulders of those for whom we prayed.
And with the weight of the hands of those who love them and the voice of their pastor who loves them, they were the center of the ancient prayer that the Spirit would rest upon them, bringing wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear (respect), and the joy of the Lord, forever!
I don’t know what they experienced today. They may have been distracted and not heard the words. But, there is no way they missed it when dozens of people stood up and walked toward them to physically draw near them. There is no way they missed it when “their people” showed up to pray.
And if they did miss it. If they weren’t really present for it, then I’m grateful that the church never stops offering us opportunities to be prayed for. I’m grateful that there are other times we receive the weight of the hands of our church family and hear at least one voice asking God for healing or guidance on our behalf.
I don’t remember the weight of my dad’s hands on that spring day in 1983. But, I remember it at the railing a few times on Maundy Thursday. And at El Camino Pines summer camp a few years after my confirmation day, my cabin mates laid their hands on my shoulders and prayed while I wept with sorrow I didn’t even know I was carrying. And when I left for college, my congregation gathered around me and prayed. And when I knelt at the altar of Emmanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in High Point as I was ordained into the Ministry of Word and Sacrament, “my people” showed up with their hands and voices to pray for me. When I returned from bereavement leave after my husband’s death, I told a group of my pastoral colleagues that I was having a hard time re-entering into my role as pastor. I told them I didn’t really know what I needed to feel ready to re-enter, but that I felt “off” and would appreciate their prayers. I meant, later: in their own prayer lives, to remember me to the Lord. Instead, they moved closer. They drew near and laid their hands on my shoulders and prayed for me. The weight of their hands and the sound of their voices are fingerprints on my life.
Teresa of Avila said of our risen and ascended Lord, who no longer walks the earth with us, “Christ has no hands but yours.” So, I’m grateful that when I need to feel Christ’s presence, my human family draws near to touch me with the hands of Christ, calling to the Spirit, “Come!”
* If you are reading this and feeling claustrophobic, if the description of people drawing near you and touching you causes you to flinch, please know that we ask permission to offer our touch. In the case of confirmands, as we plan their service, we discuss if it is okay for people to come forward and lay hands on them. One year, I had a confirmand who only wanted his parents’ and my hands on him; we obliged because if it doesn’t feel like love, we don’t want to do it. If he had resisted any physical touch at all, then I would have stood next to him and spoken the words without touching him.